Toronto, Venice Film Festivals Offer How-to Course in Planning

Both festivals offer the festivalgoer entirely different experiences

Venice Film Festival

Toronto and Venice kicked festival season into high gear when they unveiled their lineups on July 23 and 25, respectively. The two announcements also offered reminders that festivals are like film franchises: You must fulfill audience expectations yet give them something new, and you must forge a distinct identity while retaining the essential elements of thousands of similar offerings.

Both events — Venice runs Aug. 28-Sept. 7; Toronto is Sept. 5-15 — will offer the usual quota of movie stars, name directors and world premieres. But Toronto underlines its role as an awards launchpad with such titles as Ron Howard’s “Rush,” Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” and John Wells’ “August: Osage County,” while also maintaining its reputation as an industry behemoth with hundreds of titles encompassing documentaries, kidpics, midnight movies and more.

In the coming weeks, Toronto will continue to announce titles across its various, often nebulously titled sections, including Masters, Mavericks, Discovery, Vanguard and its region-specific City to City sidebar.

Venice also puts a spotlight on kudos contenders, but within a much more selective lineup of 60-70 titles, demonstrating its global mandate by showcasing numerous international works. This year’s lineup includes Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm,” Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs” and Merzak Allouache’s “The Rooftops.”

Venice’s flair for innovation and diversity include its bookending 3D films (opening-night attraction “Gravity” from Alfonso Cuaron and closer docu “Amazonia”), plus an animated film, Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises,” in competition. It’s also offering its first in-competish documentary, Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known.”

As if that weren’t enough, the festival found an out-of-competition slot for Greg McLean’s “Wolf Creek 2.”

The fest will offer selected titles on the Web, for a 24-hour period, day-and-date with their world preems at the cutting edge Horizons sidebar. After dipping its toes in digital last year, Venice is looking to increase the reach of its Sala Web Theater, which is limited to 500 virtual seats. Fest topper Alberto Barbera is touting the online Sala Web as an opportunity for films to gain additional worldwide exposure, while providing the chance to test the waters of the international market.

While both festivals enjoy the sunny weather of the fall schedule, they offer the festivalgoer entirely different experiences. Mosquitoes aside, Venice is less frenzied; cineastes get around on bicycles, and the generous scheduling and relatively manageable lineup make for an atmosphere that will refresh anyone who’s spent time in the Cannes hothouse or the Sundance cold. By contrast, the sheer number of titles at Toronto make for a more overwhelming experience, off-set somewhat by the festival’s smoothly run operation, comfortable venues and the benefits of a decent transit system and above-average dining options.

As usual, the two fests have a bit of an overlap, in terms of dates and shared titles; the always-last-minute announcement from Telluride will undoubtedly reflect a few duplications as well. So far, the Italian and Canadian fests will both be showing “Gravity,” “Philomena” (Stephen Frears), “Under the Skin” (Jonathan Glazer), “Parkland” (Peter Landesman) and “Night Moves” (Kelly Reichardt), among others.

The inclusions of Reichardt and Emma Dante (with “Via Castellana Bandiera ”) in competition rep an attempt to reverse a prevalent trend: under-representation of women directors, as reflected in the recent Cannes fest and at the Oscars. Both of last week’s announcements included films from women, but neither could match the just-wrapped Durban Festival, where seven women helmers were repped among the 24 competition films.

“I don’t think this is an issue that is unique to South Africa or Africa,” South African director Sara Blecher says. “But I do also think we’re on the curve of improving and increasing the number of women making feature films here. In other parts of the world, like the U.S., it feels like there are less and less women in film.”

Durban also pointed up one of the hurdles for many fest directors: politics. Its July 18 opening night was canceled at the last minute when the South Africa Film & Publication Board refused to give a permit to Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s “Of Good Report.” Hopefully, Barbera’s relationship with the government-sponsored La Biennale committee, which oversees the festival among other things, is more sanguine. But politics and world events could play a role in the Cairo Film Festival, scheduled Nov. 27-Dec. 6.

Fest programmers also have to deal with the sociopolitics of film execs, who weigh the costs and logistics of a festival berth as they consider the access of global press and awards buzz. For example, “Captain Phillips,” directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks, was predicted to be slotted at both festivals, but was a no-show at last week’s announcements. It may show up at one or both, but others are predicting it could bow at the New York Film Festival instead. The George Clooney-helmed “The Monuments Men” was sought by every festival, but the word is that it won’t be ready for these.

(Nick Vivarelli and Andile Ndlovu contributed to this report.)

2013 Film Festival Schedule:

Locarno Aug. 7-17
Venice Aug. 28-Sept. 7
Telluride Aug. 29-Sept. 2
Toronto Sept 5-15
San Sebastian Sept. 20-28
Rio Sept. 26-Oct. 10
Busan Oct. 3-12
London BFI Oct. 9-20
Festival Lyon Lumiere (France) Oct. 14-20
Tokyo Oct. 17-25
Abu Dhabi Oct. 22-Nov. 2
Thessaloniki Nov. 1-10
AFI Festival Nov. 7-14
Rome Nov. 8-17
Baja /Los Cabos Nov. 13-16
Dubai Dec. 6-14
Ventana Sur Dec. 3-6